Tag Archives: Abel Ferrara

The Politics of Sin

Padre Pio

by Brandon Thomas

Shortly after the end of the first World War, a priest named Padre Pio (Shia LaBeouf) finds himself suffering an enormous crisis of faith. Having had health issues that kept him from the front lines of the war, Pio’s guilt is slowly consuming him.

Outside the walls of the monastery, a less internal battle is brewing. Many townspeople, upset with fascist landowners and their own working conditions, are drawn to the rising Socialist Party. They see the town’s first free election as a way to make their voices heard. When the old rulers see the tide turning against them, violence becomes their only way of holding onto power.

Director Abel Ferrara made a name for himself by directing some of the most notable exploitation movies of the late ‘70s, ‘80s, and early ‘90s. Films like Ms. 45 and Bad Lieutenant were cultural firestarters in their day, and might even draw the ire of Film Twitter in the present should it stumble upon those seedy gems. However, in the latter half of his career, Ferrara has been drawn to more contemplative works. Pasolini, Tommaso, and Siberia show the filmmaker at his most introspective. Instead of trying to provoke an audience with violence and graphic sex, Ferrara is now trying to get them to look inward through quiet but haunted protagonists. 

Padre Pio is Ferrara’s attempt to subtly blend religion and politics, though neither topic is given its due. Unlike Paul Schrader’s more recent First Reformed, Ferrara’s film is far too disjointed and muddled to prove his own point. The religious fervor found in LaBeouf’s scenes never coherently connects with the film’s political half. There are hints at Ferrara’s initial intentions, but unfortunately very little of that appears on screen. 

LaBeouf’s casting is a major blunder. The actor has turned in very good work in movies like The Peanut Butter Falcon, Fury, and American Honey, but as an iconic Italian priest, he is horribly miscast. While the entirety of the film is in English, the bulk of the cast is made up of Italian and other European actors. LaBeouf’s distracting American accent drags any discerning viewer out of the film immediately. His inclusion, and the messiness of the overall storytelling, makes Padre Pio feel like a bad movie-within-a-movie from an Apatow comedy.

Ferrara’s ideas here are compelling and might’ve worked in movies of their own. When crammed together as competing – not complementary – narratives, the film never finds its footing and feels like a slog even at a reasonable 1 hour and 44 minutes.

Brothers in Harms

Zeros and Ones

by Hope Madden

Abel Ferrara, man. Dude refuses to follow a traditional film structure, and sometimes that works so well. Bad Lieutenant and The Addiction — two of my favorites — took on a dreamlike atmosphere thanks to the filmmaker’s loose structure and it suited both pictures.

Beginning with 2014’s Pasolini, Ferrara seems to have abandoned the standard framework entirely, his films becoming more dreamlike than lucid. His latest, Zeros and Ones, follows that path.

Ethan Hawke stars in this hazily connected sequence of scenes emphasizing one man’s journey toward a realization about himself, his brother and the world around him. Hawke plays both the journeyman, a military specialist of some kind, and his brother, a freedom fighter in Rome.

Hawke wanders empty post-pandemic Rome as bits of military and religious debauchery and double-crossing weave and bob across the screen. Meanwhile, Hawke’s voiceover oscillates between meta-Christian reflections and calls to action.

For his part, Hawke delivers two discernibly different characters, sure, but in keeping with Ferrara’s themes, two distinct types: apostle and wayward soldier. Nothing feels scripted, and with a veteran like Hawke, that works out fine. Like Willem Dafoe in so many of Ferrara’s recent films, Hawke inhabits the desolate dreamscape with a weary resignation, a ghost guiding us toward some dark inevitability.

Zeros and Ones is a pandemic film, but rather than feeling like a filmmaker doing whatever they can with the situation, this one seems like an opportunity Ferrara has been waiting for. He isn’t doing his best within unreasonable constrictions, he’s finally found that empty, nihilistic apocalypse he’s prepared for. The empty streets and lonesome, masked figures feel apiece of his greater goal.

What was that goal? What is it always? The world is filth, hope is futile, man is doomed. You’ve seen his films, right? If so, you probably already know where you’ll fall on Zeros and Ones. It is less poetic and self-indulgent than Tommaso or Siberia, less sensible than his earlier work, and less compelling than a lot of what he’s done. And the explosions look ridiculous.

And yet, there is nothing quite like an Abel Ferrara film.